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New York Times New Service

Strong new evidence shows that high levels of stress combined with a lack of close friends or family can significantly reduce life expectancy.

Data from a new Swedish study show that 50-year-old men who had recently endured high levels of emotional stress without social support were three times as likely to die within the next seven years as those whose lives were placid.

While those who were socially isolated and identified themselves as lacking emotional support and friends suffered fatalities from stressful lives, those who experienced similar stress but said they had ample emotional support and relationships in their lives had no increase in mortality.

The life events most strongly related to dying were having serious concerns about family member, being forced to move, feelings of insecurity at work, serious financial trouble and being the target of a legal action.

"Men with adequate social support seem to be protected" from the damaging effects of life's stresses, said an article published in The British Medical Journal last month by a team of scientists at the University of Goteborg in Sweden.

In the Swedish study, a random sample of 50-year-old men living in Goteborg were given a physical examination and psychological evaluation. Seven years later, researchers searched official records to determine which of the men had died.

Of those men who at 50 had reported three or more recent upsetting life events, 11 percent had died. All had identified themselves as lacking family or social support. Of those who reported no such disturbances, just 3.3 percent had died.

The researchers proposed that stress, if not buffered by emotionally reassuring relationships, may lower resistance to disease, though they do not suggest any physiological mechanism that might be involved.

There has been much research since the 1970s on links between stressful life events and ill health.

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